Beyond Good and Bad

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Abstract
We argue that people regularly encounter situations involving moral conflicts among permissible options. These scenarios, which some have called morally charged situations, reflect perceived tensions between moral expectations and moral rights. Studying responses to such situations marks a departure from the common emphasis on sacrificial dilemmas and widespread use of single-dimension measures. In 6 experiments (n=1607), we show that people use a wide conceptual arsenal when assessing actions that can be described as suberogatory (bad but permissible) or supererogatory (good but not required). In Experiment 1 we find that people identify actions as suberogatory or supererogatory when using open descriptions to describe them. Experiment 2 shows that they differentially assess these actions in terms of how permissible, optional, and good they considered them. Experiment 3 tests the use of these evaluative dimensions with sacrificial dilemmas. We fail to find differences between these categories when people respond to dilemmas, even when controlling for trait utilitarian tendencies. By including judgments of blameworthiness and sanction, Experiments 4 and 5 provide additional evidence of the granularity and the moral significance of these evaluations. In Experiment 6 people offered their own explanations of their responses. Qualitative analyses revealed that they frequently appeal to character traits, the presence of rights, and the absence of explicit duties. Taken together these results suggest a richer spectrum of both situations and concepts relevant to characterize moral judgment than moral psychologists up to this point have generally recognized.
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Archival date: 2020-06-30
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2020-06-30

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